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Rio Ferdinand needs to keep up the heat on Roy Hodgson

England football veteran defender Rio Fe

England football veteran defender Rio Ferdinand attends a football charity match in the Asian Dream Cup 2012 in Bangkok on May 23, 2012. Park Ji-Sung, the founder of the JS Fountation and Asia’s football stars played the charity match with All Star Thai league team to raised fund for the JS Fountation. AFP PHOTO/ PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL (Photo credit should read PORNCHAI KITTIWONGSAKUL/AFP/GettyImages)

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This is a fight Rio Ferdinand should have waged the moment England’s squad was announced. Granted, we all knew John Terry would be chosen over him. We also knew there was no way Ferdinand and Terry would be in the squad together. That doesn’t make the selection any less dubious.

Or “morally very suspect,” a description attributed to Ferdinand by The Guardian. Gee, you think? Select a man who’s on trial (with significant video evidence supporting the charges) over a former captain? And for the sake of keeping a Chelsea-centric back line together? While that policy doesn’t break any commandments, it’s also not going to be part of anybody’s standards and practices documentation. It’s a horrible choice.

Retracing the John Terry-Rio Ferdinand backstory

But as I write, it occurs to me: There may be some people reading this who aren’t familiar with the Terry-Ferdinand backstory. Don’t worry. This isn’t Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton. In fact, up until about three years ago, this was a viable center-half tandem for England’s national team, making it even more pathetic that the two men, approaching the end of their international careers, can’t get on the field together.

Since early 2010, so many briefs have been filed in Terry v Ferdinand that we assume everybody knows why there’s an implied tension between the two defenders. Still, it might do us some good to go back a couple of years and see what’s led to this point.

  • In February 2010, various allegations of misconduct lead to John Terry being stripped of England’s captaincy.
  • Rio Ferdinand, then vice-captain, ascended to the position, but a knee injury suffered in training for the World Cup meant Steven Gerrard wore the armband in South Africa.
  • Concerns over Ferdinand’s fitness (specifically, his ongoing back problems) led to Terry being re-named captain by Fabio Capello in March 2011.
  • In November 2011, John Terry was placed under investigation for racial abusing a player during a Premier League match. That player: Ferdinand’s younger brother, Anton.
  • In December, Terry was formally charged with using racist language. His trial is set to take place after the European Championships, with Terry having already pled not guilty.
  • England’s FA stripped Terry of the captaincy once again, leading Fabio Capello to resign from his position as head coach.
  • Roy Hodgson, Capello’s replacement, named Gerrard his permanent captain and selected Terry to his Euro 2012 squad. Ferdinand was excluded.
  • Hodgson claims the choice was a pure football decision while it is widely speculated Hodgson sought to avoid teaming Terry and Ferdinand.
  • Pre-Euro 2012 injuries forced Hodgson to replace three players (Gareth Barry, Frank Lampard, and Gary Cahill). Despite choosing two new defenders (Phil Jagielka, Martin Kelly), Ferdinand was not brought into the team.

A World in which Martin Kelly’s Preferred to Rio Ferdinand

There are vague reports claiming Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson told Hodgson that Ferdinand’s health would preclude using the 33-year-old in consecutive games. Regardless, it’s difficult to see Hodgson selecting Martin Kelly over Ferdinand unless Terry’s presence wasn’t a factor.

Kelly has payed two minutes of international soccer (last week against Norway). He doesn’t start for Liverpool. At Euro 2012, he would be third choice at left or right back, fifth choice in the middle.

Ferdinand, meanwhile, could be justified as a starter, if not England’s best defensive option in any match for which he is healthy. He is a former captain, has 81 caps, made 30 league appearances for United last season, and (by all accounts) is a well-liked, respected player for both club and country.

For Hodgson, Situation Keeps Getting Worse

There’s no way Hodgson comes out of this looking good. If you believe that he excluded Ferdinand for competitive reasons, then you have to question Hodgson’s decision-making. If you don’t believe him, then he’s being dishonest, disrespectful and “morally .. suspect.”

Regardless, Hodgson is abdicating his responsibility as a manager. Although it’s always been implied that Terry-Ferdinand is an either-or situation, it’s not. Hodgson doesn’t have to choose. At some point, he could have tried and broker an arrangement that saw both players named to the squad. It wouldn’t be the first time in managerial history that a coach had to intervene between players.

Would it have worked? Given the history that’s built up, probably not. But at least Hodgson would be going through the process. At least he would be placing the responsibility on the players to work through their issues. If one of them couldn’t make the necessary sacrifices, they’d be volunteering to be excluded. Hodgson needed to ask for that sacrifice.

Ferdinand may have balked, and with good reason. Would you want to play next to a man who’d racially abused your brother? And that gets to the heart of Ferdinand’s “morally very suspect” complaint.

No matter how you slice it, Hodgson is condoning Terry’s actions. John, you may have done these things, but it’s OK. We’d rather sacrifice Rio than lose you. We’d rather see a respected member of our set-up lose out on his last chance to participate in a major tournament than look at that nasty video of you abusing Anton Ferdinand. If that means being so intimately linked with somebody who’s capable of those actions, so be it.

Even if Ferdinand’s feelings are being relayed to the press via third-parties, he should take his case to the public. Having not been contacted by Hodgson or the FA since the original squad was announced, Ferdinand has little other recourse. As Hodgson’s pretenses are peeled away to expose the hypocrisy of his “footballing reasons,” Ferdinand has no obligation to stay quiet (and thereby condone Hodgson’s mistakes). He has every right for some degree of satisfaction, and while it won’t get him a plane ticket to Krakow, it might deliver him some base, visceral sense of justice.

If anything, Ferdinand should have spoken out more vehemently when the original 23-man squad was announced. We all suspected that he as being excluded because of the Terry conflict, yet we wanted to believe that Hodgson was beyond that. He’s clearly not. Ferdinand should have disillusioned us of that notion weeks ago. He should have put a spotlighted the issue at the onset: England elected to back a man due to be tried for racial abuse rather than include another deserving player in the squad.

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